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How Many Hours Should I Sleep?
-- A Look at Ideal Sleep Patterns

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March 5, 2012
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

How much sleep are you getting? Are you getting enough?
If there’s one thing we all love to talk about, it’s sleep.
Whether we claim to be buzzing with energy after four
hours, or we say we need 10 hours to feel human; talking
about how many hours we sleep is a hot conversation
topic. But is there an ideal number of hours to sleep?
Should we all get 8 hours of sleep? Is it normal to wake up
during the night?

Sleep is a hot health topic too – recent research studies
point to strong links between lack of sleep and disease.

What’s the link? Experts tell us the way we sleep affects
essential bodily processes that help us stay healthy. Lack of
sleep or sleep disruption can increase inflammation in our
bodies, contribute to high blood pressure and increase our
stress levels. Too little sleep can increase our risk of
depression, memory problems, cancer, diabetes, heart
disease, a lowered immune system, road traffic accidents,
marital problems... But how much sleep is enough?

According to the National Sleep Foundation at the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention most adults need
between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. But 35.3
percent of us in America get less than seven hours a night,
according to results from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor
Surveillance System. Are over one third of us in trouble?
The National Sleep Foundation does tell us that “individual
variations exist” in how many hours we should sleep. Age
is one factor – teenagers need around nine hours sleep a
night, infants around 16, while many adults function well
on five hours. Are some of us OK with less sleep?

We’re here to separate fact from fiction. When it comes to
sleeping patterns, is there an ideal? How much is too little?
Are naps good or bad? Is there such a thing as too much

Less than Five Hours: Sleep Deprivation, Birth Problems
and High Blood Pressure

Researchers classified women with sleep deprivation as
those that slept less than five hours a night over many
nights, according to a 2011 study from the University of
Crete, Heraklion, Greece. This study showed pregnant,
sleep-deprived women were more likely to have pre-term
babies. Another study from the Swedish Medical Center,
Seattle, Washington (2010) showed pregnant women with
sleep deprivation were more likely to experience gestational

Women and men who regularly sleep for less than five
hours a night are more at risk of high blood pressure than
those that sleep for longer. The link between lack of sleep
and high blood pressure is connected to the hypothalamus,
an area in your brain controlling stress hormones among
other tasks.

When you enter into slow wave sleep, or deep sleep, your
stress hormones are well regulated by your hypothalamus
but a lack of deep sleep prevents this valuable process from
taking place effectively, contributing to high blood pressure.

Men having the lowest amounts of slow wave sleep had an
80 percent greater chance of developing high blood
pressure than men who enjoyed the most, according to a
2011 study from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School.  
(Read more about the
connection between losing sleep and
high blood pressure.)

If you sleep less than five hours a night you are also more
likely to pile on the pounds – 33 more pounds to be exact,
over a period of 15 years. This is according to 2006
research from Care Western University, Ohio.

Seven Hours: The Best Amount of Sleep You Can Get?

Several large studies say seven is the magic number when
it comes to sleep. Women in the 2006 Care Western
University, Ohio obesity study who slept seven hours a
night were 30 percent less likely than women who slept
less than five hours to put on extra pounds.

Seven hours is the optimum amount of sleep you need to
prevent cardiovascular disease, according to a 2010 study
from the Department of Community Medicine, West Virginia
University School of Medicine. As you can probably guess,
less sleep was associated with increased cardiovascular
disease risk. But you may be surprised to learn that more
than seven hours was also linked to a bigger chance of
heart disease.

Ten Hours or More: High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Both the 2010 study from the West Virginia University
School of Medicine (above) and a 2010 study from the
University of Washington found that 10 hours or more of
sleep per night was linked with an increased risk of high
blood pressure and heart disease. Too much sleep in early
pregnancy was as bad as too little sleep, according to the
University of Washington, for increasing blood pressure. As
well as risking high blood pressure, you may also feel extra-
drowsy after a 10-hour sleep marathon.

Assuming the experts are correct, does it matter when we
get these optimum seven hours of sleep? Do we have to
get all our sleep in one chunk? Do we even have to get it at

Two Sleeps are Better Than One

Don’t worry if you wake up in the middle of the night and
can’t get back to sleep.

According to historian Roger Ekirch at Virginia Tech
University we are historically programmed to sleep in two

Ekirch published a paper in 2001, and a book entitled  “At
Day's Close: Night in Times Past” in 2005, that show
humans have traditionally slept in two segments – one
sleep a few hours after dusk, followed by a wakeful period
of one or two hours, then a second sleep. Ekirch believes
the loss of the two sleeps pattern has contributed to our
reduced capacity to regulate stress and anxiety naturally.

However, other researchers claim uninterrupted sleep is by
far the best way to gain health benefits and lower stress. A
2009 University of Chicago Medical Center study showed
people who had their sleep interrupted and suppressed for
just three nights in a row became less sensitive to insulin, a
factor that increases your risk of diabetes. Interrupted
sleep may also increase your risk of memory problems and
dementia. A set of 2012 research from the University
School of Medicine, St. Louis demonstrated that people
who woke up frequently during the night were five times
more likely to show signs of amyloid plaques – a marker for
Alzheimer’s disease – than those who slept soundly.

If You Don’t Get Enough, Nap?

If you haven’t been successful in getting your
uninterrupted seven hours at night – the kids woke you up,
or you went to bed late after a movie – you can nap to
recover your lost sleep, according to a 2011 study from
Allegheny College, Pennsylvania.

Those of us who nap for at least 45 minutes during the day
have lower blood pressure following stress than non-
nappers, according to the researchers. A 2008 study from
Loughborough University, UK also found a timely nap of 20
minutes was more effective at reducing afternoon
sleepiness than caffeine or extended nighttime sleep.

However, before you start staying up late and getting your
sleep in the afternoon, take a look at the findings of a 2009
study from Tulane University School of Medicine, New
Orleans. This study, among other research, demonstrates
that sleeping in the day rather than at night can increase
our risk of cancer. Why? If we are exposed to light at night
when we would normally be asleep in the dark, the levels
of the hormone melatonin in our bodies are reduced.
Because melatonin helps protect against cancer by
elevating other hormones like estrogen, we could be at
increased risk of cancer if we work or play at night and
sleep in the day.

Can You Repay a Sleep Debt?

If you stay awake all night, can you make it up by sleeping
longer another night?  

If you’ve had a few nights of five hours sleep because of
work pressures, or you’re finding it hard to sleep your
regular seven hours due to a new baby, all is not lost. We
can repay our sleep debt, according to Harvard Women's
Health Watch. Our sleep debt is like getting overdrawn at
the bank, except we’ve been spending too many waking
hours instead of dollars.

Harvard Women's Health Watch in 2007 says it may take
weeks, but we can repay even a chronic lack of sleep. Try
planning a vacation where you have no deadlines and go to
sleep every night when you are tired, waking naturally. As
your sleep debt gets repaid your body learns how many
hours sleep it really needs. Take note of this number
because it represents your ideal sleeping pattern to help
you avoid disease, stress and sleepiness.

Snoring Tips

Shallow Sleep- America's Hidden Problem  

Foods That Stop Snoring

Does Losing Sleep Cause High Blood Pressure?

Sore Throat-Causes and Cures

Snoring Linked to Higher Risk of Stroke, Heart

Sleep Study 2008 Results-Americans Are Chronically
Sleep Deprived

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